Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Bicycle

While people don't always like to conform to societal pressures, there are times where by conforming you are integrating better into the culture around you.  Now, I'm not saying you should jump off the Brooklyn Bridge because little Johnny did it... but a little conforming to pressures is not always bad. For instance, the bicycle.  And Josh and I have jumped on the bicycle bandwagon here.  Though sadly, Josh won't be riding his again for at least another 4-6 weeks (in addition to the 4 weeks since his accident) but it's ready and waiting for him when he's able to start exercising his knee again.

Our little bicycle family - can you tell which one is mine??

Who knew this two wheeled wonder could have such an impact on society.  I remember back in my Babson days taking a winter session class on the bicycle.  The majority of it didn't stick with me, but the one thing I do remember is that the invention of the bicycle improved the gene pool because people were able to leave their villages in order to procreate beyond their family members.  Yes, that is what stuck with me.

Regardless of what I remember from my college days, anyone and everyone (that I know of at least) has ridden a bicycle in their lifetime.  Whether it be when you were a child riding your bike to your friend's house or to your summer job, it was not just a mode of transportation but something you enjoyed (most often) doing.  You would create ramps out of a few pieces of wood you found lying around.  You'd see how long you could ride with no hands (I could do it all the way around the block... ahhhh to do that again!).  And so much more.

And then I got my license and I didn't really have much need for my bike any more.  Not unless it was a stationary one at the gym.  I'd use it here and there with the kids to do a short bike ride and a few months before we left Barcelona I had started to use it with a little more frequency but riding on city streets is a bit intimidating so I didn't do it often.

But here in the Netherlands, the bicycle is a staple life item from the moment you are born.  Everyone rides bicycles, young and old and often times old with a young one tagging along on the back! Bicycles have the right of way the majority of the time on the roads, something I'm semi used to from the motos back in Barcelona... only god forbid you hit a moto at least the driver was wearing a helmet.  Not so here.  I'm incredibly paranoid about these bikes and their very entitled riders (similar to the moto drivers in BCN).  I find I'm backing out of a parking space and a bike will just ride right by me, not even considering the impact on if I didn't see them... or even backing into a space, they've gone right behind my car there as well.  Like the motos, I'll just have to get used to it, albeit, I'm sure with some swearing along the way.  But unlike with the motos, I'm attempting to join this cult(ure) - though likely in a less aggressive way.

Bike paths are everywhere here.  They are well maintained and so far (at least outside the city), run separately from the main roads as often as possible - called a fietspad.  In fact, urban planning prioritizes the bicycle over the car.  There are certainly plenty of times when you are in a bike lane alongside cars, but not all the time.  Many of these paths have route markings similar to those you would see on a highway.  For instance, we live off route 23A and 23B (opposing directions).  Often times these routes are more direct from point A to point B than driving a car would be.  The signage, so as not to be confused with that of vehicle traffic, is primarily in red (usual route) or green (scenic route).

The culture is so ingrained that no matter the weather, people are out on their bikes.  I think perhaps people soak themselves in Rain-X as they appear to be impervious to the rain.  Their hair and make up still looks fine despite the crappy weather.  And since no one wears a helmet, there is no helmet head. My poor kids are not thrilled (but do accept) that they have to still wear helmets when riding.  It makes us stand out a little bit from the locals but better safe than sorry especially since we are still working on learning and understanding our bike etiquette and rules of the road here.  Not to mention, Liam is still a little bit of a bob n weaver on the roads, not particularly good at going in a straight line.

The good thing is with all the trails that are separated from the car traffic, Liam is getting some practice in without risk of getting hit by a car... by another bike perhaps, but not by a car.  It's a start.  Aidan has really loved riding his bike, especially since it's flat here.  Rarely would we use our bikes in Barcelona, primarily because we'd have to stop at each block and the kids couldn't ride on busy streets - it was easier to scooter.  And he loves to ride his bike.  The land being flat helps too - no whining about hills to ride up!  And now that I have my own Dutch bike (I had a mountain hybrid bike that I was riding before which was just not meant for these streets but will now be used as our "guest" bike), I'm trying to get out several times a week to run errands.  If I can keep that up in addition to my running, I'll feel pretty good.

Bike parking at Amsterdam Centraal... yes it is a parking garage for bikes!  And that's actually Josh's building in the background!

So we look forward to Josh getting back up and riding again so that we can do some trips as a family - maybe one of these days we'll get up to riding all the way into Amsterdam (about 20km each way / 12 miles).  But in the meantime, we're conforming to the culture and jumping / riding on this bandwagon. It's not walking the streets of Barcelona like we're used to, but it's nice to be outside and getting exercise while at the same time going about your every day business like we did back in Spain.  I say this now while the weather is still decent - talk to me come December when it's cold, rainy and windy... but for now we're totally into this.


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